Illinois Construction Worker Receives $13.5 Million Verdict for Machine’s Design Defect – Stone v. MiTek Industries

A Central Illinois product liability lawsuit springing from a construction site injury returned the highest verdict in Tazewell County history. The Illinois jury awarded $13.5 million to the twenty-some year-old plaintiff who suffered a traumatic leg amputation; Justin Stone v. MiTek Industries and Central Illinois Truss, Inc., 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois (2011).

At the time of his work injury, 19 year-old Dustin Stone was working on a machine building roof trusses, or roof rafters, which are the triangle supports used to build roofs in homes. The roof truss machine consisted of several different work tables spread out over the length of the 100 ft. long machine. Stone was adding support to the wood trusses by hammering metal plates into the various truss joints.

Stone was standing between two opposite-facing machine tables when another truss operator drove a crane gantry toward the area where Stone was working. Protocol requires the gantry operator to first make sure the aisles are clear of workers; however, this was obviously not done on the date of Stone’s construction site injury. The gantry pinned Stone against a metal rail, crushing his left femur so severely that he required an above the knee amputation of his left leg.

Stone brought a product liability lawsuit against the truss machine’s designer and manufacturer, MiTek Industries. The Illinois lawsuit centered around an alleged design defect in the truss machine. As the gantry headed towards Stone, he had the foresight to push a safety bar that was meant to immediately shut the gantry down. However, the safety bar failed to function properly and the gantry continued towards Stone, causing his eventual leg amputation.

During the discovery phase, the plaintiff’s attorney determined that MiTek Industries had redesigned the machine’s safety bar in 2001, yet had failed to test the safety or effectiveness of the design. In addition, an investigation by Stone’s employer, Central Illinois Truss (CIT), showed that the safety bar’s screws were loose. The plaintiff’s engineering experts testified that the faulty design left the safety bar’s screws prone to becoming loose from the truss machine’s vibrations. Once these screws were loose, the safety bar did not function properly and was prone to failure. The plaintiff’s experts further opined that the loose screws were the direct cause of Stone’s personal injury, which could have been avoided if not for the machine’s design defect.

MiTek Industries filed a third-party complaint against Stone’s employer, CIT, alleging that the company had made its own modifications to the machine’s safety guard. In addition, MiTek argued that CIT had assumed responsibility for maintaining the truss machine at the time of its purchase. LIkewise, MiTek argued that the plaintiff himself was responsible for his injury in that he had taken on the assumption of risk when first agreeing to work on the truss machine.

Prior to the Tazewell County verdict, MiTek’s last offer to settle was $5 million. The plaintiff’s attorneys were wise not to accept that offer for their client, Mr. Stone in that the jury returned a $13.5 million verdict against the machine manufacturer and plaintiff’s employer. The jury found that Stone was not at all responsible for his own injuries; it apportioned 71% of the blame to MiTek Industries and the remaining 29% to Stone’s employer, Central Illinois Truss, Inc.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois product liability matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Hinsdale, LaGrange, Streamwood, and South Holland.

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